The rest of the best
Last week we published our list of the best PC games of 2016 (so far), a.k.a. our Game of the Year list if Game of the Year lists were decided in June. Now, here’s its annual counterpart: The best PC games you might have missed so far this year.
These are the weird-but-charming indies. The wonderful, yet under-advertised B-tier. The games to add to the backlog and then play on a rainy Saturday. And 2016’s been a fairly strong year so far, what with Layers of Fear, Deadbolt, Hyper Light Drifter, and…well, quite a few more. Read on to see if there are any titles you’re interested in, or if your favorite small-scale release made the list.
Agatha Christie - The ABC Murders
Back when Agatha Christie – The ABC Murders ($15 on Steam or GOG) released, I thought it made for a decent little warm-up in preparation for Sherlock Holmes: The Devil's Daughter. And then The Devil's Daughter released and…well…
Point is: The ABC Murders might be the best detective point-and-click we get all year. It's got wonderful storybook art, charming characters, and manages to nick some of the best parts of Frogware's Sherlock Holmes games. It's not very difficult, and some of the puzzles get a bit tedious, but all in all it's a sweet and earnest game to while away an evening.
The Room 2
The Room series is possibly my favorite bunch of mobile games. Each is like a self-contained, fantastical puzzle box that spools out into something much grander as you play, a nesting doll of impossibilities.
It took two years for The Room to hit Steam, and now it's taken two more for The Room 2 to make its way over. But it has! It's available on Steam as of this week. While not quite as elegant as the original, I'd still highly recommend it. Like most sequels, it's "more of the same, but bigger."
Layers of Fear
It sometimes veers off into parody and heavy-handed tropes, but Layers of Fear ($20 on Steam) is a delightful horror game. Drawing on the likes of P.T. and Sightline: The Chair, Layers of Fear loves to mess with your perceptions. Was that wall always a wall? Or was there a door there a few seconds ago? And that's just the beginning.
It's a grim and macabre sort of horror, but also one that tries its hardest to make an emotional connection with the player—one that goes beyond mere fear. As I said: It's not always successful, but it's still worth a look. I have a feeling we'll be seeing more games in the same vein soon.
Duskers ($20 on Steam) is, I think, not for everyone. It commits some pretty grave design sins, in that it takes a long time to get going (we’re talking hours of investment), but not very long at all for everything to go horribly wrong and necessitate starting from scratch.
For those willing to brave it, though: Duskers is an atypical real-time strategy game wherein you are scavenging spare parts from space ships. You do so by way of remote-operating a set of drones, and the whole game is rendered out in a chunky Apple II-esque interface complete with command line for certain tasks. I find Duskers flawed, but I admire its aesthetic and unique approach enough for it to earn a spot here.
Hyper Light Drifter
To some extent I like looking at Hyper Light Drifter ($20 on Steam) more than playing it. Pixel art's felt played-out for the past few years, but Hyper Light Drifter's jewel-toned vistas are unbelievable, both in their complexity and in their beauty.
Aside from that, it's an ultra-hard action game that's, at times, completely impossible to navigate. That goes for the micro level ("Oh, that was actually a door?") and the macro ("Where the hell am I? And how do I get to where I thought I was going?"). And so I recommend Hyper Light Drifter with some caveats. Be prepared to explore the game, like an heir to the Zeldas of old. Don't be surprised if you get lost, or if you have no idea what to do next.
It's pretty stellar if you bear with it.
Deadbolt ($10 on Steam) hasn't really had the same cultural impact as the studio's previous game, Risk of Rain. But it's not because the game is bad. Quite the contrary— Deadbolt is probably the best side-scrolling stealth game since Mark of the Ninja.
You play as the Grim Reaper, and your job is to clear out apartment buildings full of the undead. It's a bit similar to the set-up of Hotline Miami or Not a Hero (aside from the whole undead thing) but Deadbolt plays out slower, more like a large intricate puzzle than Hotline Miami's frantic flow. Also you can hide in a toilet and pop out to kill people.
The latest in a long line of Wadjet Eye point-and-clicks, Shardlight ($15 on Steam) is neither the best nor the most creative game in the studio's history. But this is Wadjet Eye, and even the studio's B-tier titles often have something to offer.
Such is the case with Shardlight, a game set in a post-apocalyptic world torn between a corporate oligarchy and the undercurrents of revolution. Adventure Game Studio is a dismal engine and so Shardlight's a bit rough around the edges, but this is still one of the best-written point-and-clicks of 2016.
Enter the Gungeon
Enter the Gungeon ($15 on Steam) has one major flaw: Runs take too long. It's the latest in the modern "roguelike-like" genre, like Spelunky or FTL or Binding of Isaac. But it takes too long to get difficult, which makes the early stages of each run a bit of a chore.
That said: It's excellent, especially once the difficulty ramps up. Dodging around, shooting like a madman in a blend of twin-stick shooter and bullet hell is great for killing a few afternoons—or playing in "one or two runs before bed" spurts.
First, some caveats: Goetia ($15 on Steam) can be pretty obtuse at times, and there's some small-developer jank to struggle through. Don't be afraid to consult a walkthrough. I did. Many times.
It was worth it, though. Goetia is an excellent puzzle-based point-and-click with a surprising amount of depth to its demon-infested world. This is a game for people who want a slower, more ponderous adventure—one with lots of reading, and lots of puzzling out obscure clues in notes. I don't know if that's a big niche, but Goetia's near the top nevertheless.
Speaking of weird niches: INFRA ($15 on Steam) is an exploration/adventure game where you play as "a structural analyst on a routine mission." That's a direct quote from the Steam page. Your job is to explore the less-accessible parts of a town's infrastructure and photograph anything that's decaying or dangerous: Cracked bridge, rusty support beam, et cetera.
Or, at least, that's the set-up. Spoiler: Things are more than they seem.
INFRA is weird and sometimes a bit busted but it can also be exceedingly clever at times, with an amazing attention to detail that most games don't possess. Plus, there's something fascinating about playing a game as an actual person, not Joe/Jane Superhero. My only qualm is that only the first part of the game is out now. On the other hand, Part 2 is supposed to be free to all current owners when it eventually releases.
Stephen's Sausage Roll
Okay, one more. A bonus pick! And I shouldn't even put the game on this list because it already cracked into our best PC games of 2016 (so far) list last week.
Damn it, though—Stephen's Sausage Roll ($30 on Steam) is great. And there's also a good chance you missed it, because it looks like a crappy Shockwave game from fifteen years ago. Yes, Shockwave. Not even Flash. If you want a puzzler that'll twist your brain into knots and also make you strangely hungry for sausages though? Pick this game up.